A parting gift 

Kitchen Witch gets on her broom and flies...

The world is small. One day back in 2002, I received an e-mail from a man named Bill Addison. He wanted to take my distance-learning food-writing course through UCLA but he kept getting turned away due to low registration. Would I teach him one-on-one, he wanted to know.

In less than two years, Addison went from being my student to being my editor at this very newspaper. He and I gave birth to the Kitchen Witch in August 2004, a weekly recipe column dished up with a story and musings about life. Addison moved on to points west and then looped back to Texas, where he is doing just fine. His shoes were filled by the savvy Besha Rodell, whom I'd never met in person until earlier this month.

I guess you've figured out I'm trying to say goodbye. This kitchen witch has some new cauldrons to stir, so I've got to pack the broom and bid you farewell.

It's been my goal over these three-and-a-half years to teach without being too teachy, that one new recipe a week would feel manageable within the context of our crazy lives on the freeway, runway and Internet superhighway. As a parting gift, I share with you a killer recipe for banana bread that's completely vegan but you'd never know it. Credit goes to Ania Catalano, author of a new book called Baking with Agave Nectar. A plant-based sweetener from the agave plant (you might know it as the tequila plant), agave nectar is a wonderful, low-glycemic, vegan alternative to sugar, honey and all the other sweet stuff out there. You won't believe how seamlessly it translates in baked goods, and this banana bread is as good as the slap-your-momma variety with the butter and eggs – for real.

Think you might miss me? Stop by Realsimple.com, where I'll be cooking up words three times weekly. If not, be good and keep the spirit of cooking alive.

Banana date bread

Adapted from Baking with Agave Nectar by Ania Catalano

12 ounces firm silken tofu (nonrefrigerated varieties in aseptic packaging are best)

1/2 cup light agave nectar

1 cup mashed ripe bananas (2-3 bananas)

1/4 cup unsweetened apple juice (alternatively, water)

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/4 cup canola oil

1 1/2 cups sprouted spelt flour or sprouted whole wheat flour (alternatively, whole wheat pastry flour or white wheat flour)

1 tablespoon baking powder

KW addition: 1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup pitted dates, chopped (about 10 dates)

1/2 cup walnuts, chopped (alternatively, pecans)

2 tablespoons flax seeds (optional)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Coat a 4- or 5-by-8-inch loaf pan with nonstick canola oil spray and flour lightly.

In a food processor, combine tofu, agave nectar, bananas, juice, vanilla, spices and canola oil. Blend until smooth and creamy, 2-3 minutes.

In another bowl, sift together flour, baking powder and salt. Add tofu mixture and incorporate into flour until integrated.

Fold in dates, nuts and, if using, flax seeds.

Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 35-40 minutes (KW note: It took my loaf closer to 60 minutes) or until a skewer inserted into center of loaf comes out clean.

Allow to cool in pan for 10-15 minutes before transferring to a rack to cool completely.

Store in refrigerator, tightly wrapped.

Culinary questions? Contact Kim O'Donnel at kim.odonnel@creativeloafing.com.

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